The Turin Film Festival passed its quarter-century milestone under new management. Its new director, noted filmmaker and cinephile Nanni Moretti, faced the challenge of matching the careful, varied programming maintained by predecessors Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and Roberto Turigliatto. Among the award winners this year were The Elephant and the Sea by Malaysian director Woo Ming Jin and Lenny Abrahamson’s Cannes-premiered Garage.
A perennial highlight has been the festival’s thorough retrospectives, but with this year’s programs devoted to John Cassavetes and Wim Wenders, the real discovery was to be found in an Italian sidebar. This clutch of primarily wartime-set dramas included Gianfranco De Bosio’s Il Terrorista (63), a gripping resistance tale with a sense of treachery and excruciating dedication to the cause that anticipates Melville’s 1969 Army of Shadows. The urban melodrama It Happened in ’43 (60) mingles romantic and political guilt in its portrayal of a homebound cuckold, who, from his streetside window, witnesses much more than his wife’s dalliance. And, finally, an unexpected treat was Who Works Is Lost (63), a sarcastic, voiceover-heavy ramble about a restless graduate’s job and girlfriend anxieties—the clever directorial debut of future Italian softcore porn maestro Tinto Brass.
Among the smattering of contemporary premieres was Ultimo, Khavn de la Cruz’s poignant, black-and-white riff on Filipino national hero Jose Rizal. Shot in Spain (the Philippines’ former colonizer) in about a week, the abstract string of scenes of play and contemplation has a thrown-together feel but deepens with the intricate flamenco guitar score (the movie’s is otherwise silent) and the intertitles of Rizal’s proud-martyr verse. Not an earth-shaking contribution to the oeuvre but reflective of the director’s restless experimentation and unmistakable energy.
Turning away from the outside world were three portraits in solitude. Vogelfrei is divided into four segments, each shot by a different Lithuanian director, all apparently about the same man. Call it the Four Ages of an Outsider: an unremarkable rough-and-tumble childhood (segment by Janis Kalejs), the romantic travails of an adolescent who withdraws too readily (Gatis Smits), the creepy oblivion of a clueless lone-wolf businessman (Janis Putnins), and, years later, full-blown hermithood in a forest sanctuary (Anna Viduleja). In the last segment, the film’s protagonist embraces prankish rebellion, toying with two visitors who want to observe birds of prey, but the film’s lighthearted strains are belied by the backbeat of loneliness.
More overtly, even Gothically bleak is Antoine Barraud’s Song. The director stars as a tortured, almost incommunicative Taipei depressive in flight from his concerned sister. Black-clad and as inward-looking as a black hole, he eventually has an unconvincing affair with a single mother played by Tsai Ming-liang regular Li Yu Ching. Similarly, Jean-Louis Milesi’s Lino starts with the desperate, bereft predicament of a conflicted man (Milesi) left to care for his dead girlfriend’s toddler (played by the actor’s own child), but degenerates into Ponette-ish manipulation. In Exodus, Hong Kong director Pang Ho-Cheung attempts to subvert a tedious police procedural with a left-field absurd finale. A cop questioning a peeping tom learns of a supposed conspiracy among women to kill off men, a story he at first dismisses as the ravings of a nutcase. After the fantastical last act suggests some truth to the claim, Pang forces the viewer to take a satirical look back at the cop’s quotidian power struggles with his wife and his struggle for a promotion. Still, the torpor that prevails till then risks making it all feel like a shaggy-dog joke.
Lastly, two slight but diverting films came from a pair of Hungarian directors who appear to identify more with György Pálfi than Béla Tarr. Tamás Tóth’s Wolf tackles the festival genre of ethnographic magic realism with the playful ghost story of a Siberian village that calls upon a feckless shaman to vanquish a pack of vampiric wolves. The horror premise is actually an excuse for grotesquely weathered faces and iconic setpieces like a circular stampede of reindeer. Benedek Fliegauf’s Milky Way bears something in common with the deep-focus apocalyptic comedy of Roy Andersson, but this series of blackout sketches more often settles for one- and two-joke landscapes and pantomimes. But at several points Fliegauf’s canvases create the neat sensation of poking little fictional holes in a Benning-esque ambience. And the last shot was a nice way to end the surreal immersion of a festival: imagine the scene of silhouetted emergence in THX 1138 turned into a two-person dance-off.